It is annoying how many voices and whispers in the night that Merlin can hear, even when he is in deep hibernation, waiting until his king is reborn again. He hears his enemies sneaking along the surface of the earth, biding their time. He hears the great dragon's murmuring riddles into his mind, preparing him for the next challenges in protecting Arthur.
When Merlin first awakes in the 21st century, it is by accident. There is no surge of magic or Kilgharrah roaring that Emrys must awaken. No, an archeologist stumbles into the tomb that Merlin locked himself away in and prods Merlin awake with his screams. Needless to say, the warlock wakes with a vengeance, destroying the magical enchantments (he had placed them there when it was time for him to sleep again, should enemies wander on his resting ground) that try to destroy the poor man.
A man who was Gaius reincarnated.
“Ah, what were you doing sleeping in a three thousand year old burial ground, my boy?” Ah, the dreaded raised eyebrow.
“Um, I was... lost?”
With some spells, Merlin helps Gaius recall his past memories before he can be thrown into an asylum. They share some tea back at camp and exchange stories of the modern age.
“You'll need somewhere to stay until Arthur needs you and a way to keep up to speed with this time period. I'll send you to school; perhaps you'll find something you're interested in.”
So Merlin is enrolled in a high school. He finds that he enjoys learning about literature. Two years later, he graduates in record time (maybe he used some sorcery to speed things up, but he doesn't want more time than necessary watching teenagers throw paper balls at each other), enters university. He doesn't want to burden Gaius with the tuition and decides to get a job as a waiter.
That's when it first happens. After getting over the shock of seeing Arthur again, Merlin steps out for a smoke when a splitting pain screeches in his ears and he knows that his king is in mortal peril.
Several part time jobs lost and many foiled kidnappers later, Merlin swears that he awoke in this life with an internal “Arthur-is-in-danger” detector because every time someone so much as thinks an evil thought about his king, Merlin gets the screech again and he knows exactly what has happened.
He's pretty sure that this is fate's idea of a joke and can't deny that knowing exactly when Arthur is in trouble is an asset (despite its annoyances—Merlin fears that he'll get an ear tumour before he gets his Masters degree.)
Shame it doesn't help him when he's the one in danger.
Merlin wakes up in the classic scenario, tied to a chair with the room's only light source blazing down on his head. He can sense about twenty men in the shadows, surrounding him, but his magic is otherwise subdued by strange restraints around his wrists.
It's a bit concerning, considering that the only ones who know that he has magic are Gaius, Arthur and Uther (who was once again the first to remember his past lives and enjoys texting Merlin constantly about moving into the palace, which is frankly a terrifying concept. He may be Arthur's fiancé, but he'll enjoy his independent lifestyle while he can, thank you.)
A man steps out from the shadows.
“You know who I am,” he says in a low voice.
“Um, no I don't.” Merlin really doesn't.
His captor actually looks hurt and Merlin tries not to laugh.
“But, I tried to kill your king, several times in fact, back in Camelot!” The man throws up his arms.
“Huh, well, you must not have made a very good impression.”
The man gapes at him.
“I mean, there are a lot of people who try to kill Arthur over the past thousand years. I can't keep track of all of you or which lives you came into play. You all sort of blur together. Though, you do get points for kidnapping me instead of Arthur this time. That's creative,” Merlin nodded appreciatively, “though being tied to a chair, not so much.”
The man's mouth opens and closes several times before he spits out, “Shut up,” and, “I'm not after revenge this time. Only money. There's a ransom for your pretty head, and your king won't hesitate to pay it to have his bed-warmer back between his thighs-”
“Hey, I resent that comment! He warms my bed too-”
“Silence!” The man shouts, trying to sound intimidating, before he slaps Merlin hard across the face.
This is, of course, when Arthur bursts through the doorway, holding a blazing sword that Merlin recognizes as Excalibur (just where did he find that?!) and looking absolutely livid.
His fiancé’s eyes narrow when he sees the purple make on Merlin's face and then he points the blade to Merlin's terrified captor.
“You will regret harming my beloved!”
This is when Merlin begins to fear for his enemy's life.
“Um, Arthur, maybe you could let him off a bit easy...? I mean, he wasn't trying to kill me exactly, just get a lot of money and-”
“Just shut up and let me rescue you.”
He does that.
He suspects that Arthur enjoys his role of the knight in shining armour a bit too much when all of Merlin's captors end up heavily hospitalized, but he is too breathless from Arthur's reverent and frenzied kisses to care.
“How did you know where to find me?” Merlin remembers to ask, as his shirt is ripped off and he's pinned against the floor.
Arthur gives him a look that is sultry, annoyed and fond at the same time. And it isn’t fair, because it makes Merlin want him more.
“I always know.”
Later, he confesses, the sword appearing out of nowhere and Kilgharrah shouting at him to save his other half (in his mind) might have helped.